Friday, April 27, 2018

"U Call 'Em Bodyguards But I Call 'Em My Friends" - Interview with Harlan Austin

"If you really want to know about Prince, who he is, listen to his music."

Photo courtesy of Harlan Austin

Decades before Prince was officially baptized into the Jehovah's Witness faith, he was exposed to Witnesses (former and practicing) within his own camp: Revolution bassist Mark Brown (aka Brown Mark), singer Jill Jones, hairdresser Earl Jones (Jill's uncle) and security guard Harlan "Hucky" Austin.

During a phone interview this week, Austin recalled his parents arming him with Jehovah's Witness magazines The Watchtower and Awake! to keep him centered in the midst of the rock 'n' roll lifestyle.

"And so whenever I had downtime ... I would read the magazines," said Austin, who worked for Prince from 1983 to 1991. He told me about Prince's reaction to the magazines, and recounted running into Prince at a Jehovah's Witness convention and Austin's Kingdom Hall in North Minneapolis years later (more on that in the book).

Although Prince didn't attend Kingdom Hall in the 1980s, the superstar was "spiritual," according to Austin, who was close enough to be a reliable judge.

"Anybody that was one of the bodyguards and security ... you're gonna be in that inner circle," Austin said. "I actually lived with Prince for years and so when you live with someone, you really get to know them."

I always ask folks who were around during the 1980s about Prince's "God segments" during the Purple Rain tour. Basically, Prince would cry out to God and lecture the audience about forbidden apples and life and death. He openly expressed his anguish over the explicit content of his music, and said he was responding to the demands of the audience.

If you ask someone like Prince's early music collaborator Chris Moon, it was just marketing. If you ask someone like longtime business associate Craig Rice, it was authentic expression. Austin agreed with Rice.

"His music told an awful lot about who he was, and it was never for show," Austin said. "I think those were really challenges that he was experiencing during that time."

Austin and I touched on other subjects like Prince's attitude toward commercial success, his relationship with his father, and his spirituality in his last years. Austin also spoke about the last time he heard from Prince, which was around 2005.

Prince had left a voicemail, a practice so out of the ordinary that Austin played it for Rice, Prince's former drummer Sheila E., and Prince's former manager Gilbert Davison.

"Everybody's like, 'Yeah, that's him,'" Austin said. "But somehow I lost that voicemail over the years. And that's one thing that disappoints me the most because I would've loved to have that."


Today, Harlan Austin owns his own security business. Learn more at bodyguardcareers.com.

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